Max Richley has tried to play outside hitter at Newport Harbor High. His boys’ volleyball coaches just won’t let him.
When you’re 5-foot-8 like Richley, you play libero.
The position fits the senior. He provides the energy, keeps the team focused, and carries the right attitude when the Sailors play.
“Never let any ball hit the floor,” Richley said. “Make sure the rest of the team has the same mentality. Just try to be perfect.”
Richley aims for perfection on the court. You can use perfect to describe how the Orange County Championships Division 1 tournament ended for Richley.
The three-day event didn’t begin with the ideal result, a loss, but the Sailors went on to win the next five matches. The last one, for the title, came on Monday against Corona del Mar, the defending ESPN RISE national champion.
The Sailors swept their Back Bay rivals, 25-20, 27-25, at Edison High and started their week off with a bang. The guy most responsible for Newport Harbor’s success was the smallest player on the team.
Richley stood out among giants. When he heard the PA announcer say he was the tournament MVP, Richley looked surprised.
“I was hoping for all-tournament,” said Richley, who helped his team claim the tournament crown after finishing second last season. “Winning MVP was icing on the cake.”
Richley will get his cake, a birthday one, on Friday.
He turns 18 on the same day the Sailors open Sunset League play at home against Edison. The day is a huge one for Richley and his team.
Richley wants to end it celebrating a victory.
The Sailors need to get off to a good start to keep up with Huntington Beach in league. Steve Astor, who’s in his first season at the helm at Newport Harbor, said the Oilers have the top team in league.
The No. 1 team in league used to be Newport Harbor, which has finished undefeated in league in three of the past four seasons.
Richley started for the first time last year and played a vital role to the program’s success, a league title and a quarterfinal appearance in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. He admits the Sailors lost key players, including outside hitter Cody Caldwell, the Volleyball Magazine National Player of the Year last season, outside hitter Rusty Sary and setter Ian Sequeira, both first-team all-league picks, and their legendary coach, Dan Glenn.
Richley believes many have underestimated Newport Harbor, which is unranked in the Division 1 poll. He believes his team can contend.
“Our goal is to win CIF,” said Richley, who was in eighth grade the last time the Sailors reached the section finale in 2008.
“We’re the type of team that can’t make mistakes. We can’t do that against any team.”
Richley said the reason behind the Sailors’ 10-5 start is that they tend to outwork teams. They have talent in Richley, 6-11 middle blocker Kevin Rakestraw, 6-5 middle blocker Clay Carr, setter Connor Leggett, outside hitter Chris Sheppard and libero Griffin Leggett.
That’s right. The Sailors have two of the best liberos in the area, a huge benefit to the team, giving it many options.
Astor has already used a handful of different lineups because of his liberos.
“Our passing’s good,” Astor said is why he can afford to use variations on the court. “A lot of times when you try to tweak something with your lineup, your passing goes out the window. But with our two liberos ... we can really force teams to serve small windows on the court because they don’t want to serve those guys.”
For some reason, the Sea Kings kept serving to the middle, where Richley stood ready.
Seeing his players serve to the same spot frustrated CdM Coach Steve Conti. His team lost to Newport Harbor in the tournament for the second straight season.
“We were too afraid to serve sideline and keep it away from [Richley], and that was part of our game plan, to not let him receive balls,” Conti said. “They lined him up in the middle and that’s a great move by Coach Astor to have him pass the middle and pass the majority of the court.
“Their libero was the MVP.”
Richley didn’t even know there was an MVP handed out afterward, but he gladly accepted it.
The big hitter on the winning team tends to get the award, not a defensive specialist. Hitters are always in the spotlight. No wonder Richley has tried to play outside hitter.
Born: March 23, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Sport: Boys’ volleyball
Coach: Steve Astor
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie:“Pineapple Express”
Favorite athletic moment: “My first home game as a sophomore, coming back and beating Laguna Beach.”
Week in review: Richley led the Sailors to a 25-20, 27-25 sweep of Back Bay rival Corona del Mar in the Orange County Championships Division 1 finale and earned the tournament MVP honor.